The derecho storm that rolled across the Midwest last weekend, knocking out power along the East Coast, showed just how vulnerable are our networks. Reliable backup power is the first step toward shoring up critical nets like 911.
WASHINGTON – Among the very bad things that happened here last week (June 29) when a derecho storm hammered the nation’s capital and its suburbs was the collapse of the region’s 911 emergency communications system.
Verizon’s backup power system was supposed to at least keep the 911 network operating despite widespread power outages that kept sweating utility customers in the dark for days. But Verizon’s backup power system failed, much to the horror of local governments and officials who work to maintain emergency communications. “Very troubling,” said one emergency communications specialist with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The aftermath of the huge storm serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of Verizon’s network as well as the need for more reliable sources of backup power needed to keep critical infrastructure like 911 networks online. As millions around here also learned, you can’t do anything without power.
One likely solution is an emerging public safety LTE network called First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet. The new network is scheduled to begin interoperability testing later this month.
Given the severity of recent summer storms, wild fires in the West and hurricane season peaking in August, the sooner this new network is deployed, the better.
As for backup power, some are advocating that remote cell towers and other network elements use more reliable backup power with higher power densities. One proposal being pitched by energy industry consultants is using lithium ion batteries for backup power. So far, program officials are shying away from the high cost of the emerging battery technologies. Proponents view the new network as a way to scale up Li-ion battery production to reduce manufacturing costs.
Either way, program officials and network operators must find and deploy a fail-safe backup power system so that critical networks like 911 don’t fail the next time a fast-moving derecho storm pops up in the Midwest and knocks out every part of the power grid in its path.